Saturday, June 30, 2007

Book Review

The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
a novel by Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, Anne Stuart

How did I end up with three copies of this book? Well, I bought two copies as I always do when I'm being supportive, one to keep and one for the local library, and then to my surprise and delight one showed up in the mail. So it seems appropriate that I reacted to this book on three different levels -- as a reader, a writer and a sister -- and that this post consists of three parts. I guess you could say my review is an anthology of sorts: three separate stand-alone opinions written by one person, of a single novel written by three people.

My opinion as a sister (and I have three of those, as well; none of whom arrived by mail):

Let's just get this out of the way right up front, as it is my only complaint about this book. When I heard Jenny Crusie was writing the character Mare, the youngest sister, I was dubious. Crusie's style is more in line with a bossy, know-it-all, pain in the ass oldest sister. Did I mention I have an older sister? I know of what I speak. There have been times when I would have sworn the woman IS my older sister, except that I've met her. She isn't. Nevertheless, and I don't care how talented a writer she is, I figured writing a character who was anything other than the oldest sibling would be a huge stretch of her abilities.

I was right and I was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Eileen Dreyer out-bossed the hell out of Crusie and that Dreyer's character, Dee, is the perfect oldest sister. Gave me shivers how well she pulled that off. But I maintain that Crusie's Mare is mis-cast as the youngest. Anne Stuart's character Lizzie is such a perfect youngest sister -- the non-confrontational peacemaker, with teeth -- while Mare is clearly the rebellious second child, with her need to be different from her older sister. Ahem. Did I mention that I am a second child?

However, the mixed-up birth order of these siblings is a minor quibble and does nothing to detract from the story. All three writers did a wonderful job of conveying the true nature of sisterhood, from the squabbling amongst themselves, to the united do-not-fuck-with-us front when challenged, to the unhesitating selfless combining of powers to defeat a common enemy.

My opinion as a writer:

When I heard these three writers were collaborating on a novel, I was highly skeptical about how they were going to make that work. But I was also curious. So I attended the workshop the three of them presented last July at the RWA conference where they talked about their collaboration. I learned more than I'll ever need to know about collaborating -- hey, I don't play well with others, I doubt collaboration will ever be an issue for me -- but I also learned a great deal about the craft of writing. And I came away with a huge amount of respect for the talent and experience and wisdom of these three writers.

But I was still skeptical. Why? Well, let me tell you, they acted just like sisters at that workshop. They disagreed and they argued, they sniped and pouted -- they stopped short of hair-pulling, but it was a near thing. Probably too many witnesses. They were entertaining as hell, but I was convinced this book would never make it to publication because they were going to kill each other first.

And how nice it is to be wrong about that. This book is an awesome display of talent and coordination. The three voices are distinct, yet complement each other beautifully. The three unique styles are woven together seamlessly to form a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I have a feeling these women could discuss the contents of their refrigerators or their lawn watering schedules and it would be fascinating. Luckily for us, they chose instead to tell a story of magic and transformation and love. With really hot guys. Really.

I have to say, I absolutely love the use of the stylized butterflies as harbingers of impending head-hoppin-- um, I mean, to cleverly signal a change in point of view. How Stuart and Dreyer got that past Ms. One Chapter/One POV Crusie, I'll never know, but it works beautifully.

From a craft standpoint, reading this book is like watching a brilliantly choreographed ballet or listening to a richly complex symphony. They make it look easy when I know for a fact it was anything but. This collaboration shines. It is a triumph of three incredibly strong writers who are all obviously at the height of their careers.

Now for part three. If I had posting privileges on three blogs instead of just two, I'd split this up accordingly. But I don't. So if you want to read part three (my opinion as a reader), go to the CB Bar & Grill, which is HERE. Or better yet, just go buy this book.

12 comments:

Mary said...

Hmph. Pure bilgewater, in my opinion.

Not all of the review, mind you, just one part.

But an important part, I think.
This needs to be cleared up.

You and McB cling to this delusional idea that older sisters control the situations. Ha. Everyone with a firm grasp on the Essential Truths of Reality understands that the youngest sister is always the true rebel. Doomed to suffer the tyranny of well-meaning but too-old-to-remember-what-it-was-like elder sisters, they have to develop their strength and cunning early on, learn to divide and conquer. Whatever works. Youngest sisters are ruthless. They have to be. It's a rough world out there.

My middle sister's view is that the middle sister is the quiet peacemaker because the middle sisters are constantly being overlooked while the eldest and youngest sisters got all the attention.

GatorPerson said...

Absolutely true. I thought Mare was middle and Lizzie youngest. I identified with Lizzie on several levels (being the youngest of 3) and our middle child (male) with Mare, and the oldest (male) with Dee. It took my going back and rereading to discover the reversal.

Yes, Mary, I was ruthless. But sneaky. See, Lizzie just did the tunnel vision thingie, the way the youngest is intended to do. Oldest: nurturer, conformist. Youngest: non-conformist, doesn't recognize nurturing. Middle: Prodigal, does all of the above but resents it.

Good reviews, BCB.

Diane (TT) said...

I only have one sister (my mother had two, but since the third was born when my mom was 14, my middle aunt was FAR from being an overlooked peacemaker!).

I loved how the sisters came out and how their magic worked with their roles in the family: Dee, trying desperately to control the family, totally out of control wrt the magic - in a way that prevented her developing a new family; Mare, Queen of the Universe but with the "suckiest power"; and Lizzie, who both changes things and changes the most herself.

And, absolutely, these women (the authors) deserve enormous credit for a) writing a great book and b) not killing one another. The fact that they, apparently, also had a great time shows that when it's right, it's right.

McB said...

I gotta quibble with your quibble. I have a younger sister, and trust me she's VERY bossy. She's 7 years younger than me but everyone assumes she's older. to which I always reply "No, she's just pushier."

Scope Dope Cherrybomb said...

I agree with Mcb. My next younger sister to me was pushy and Mom's favorite so she got whatever she manipulated for, including my oldest sister and I into a lot of trouble. My oldest sister was the nurturer but also the bully to me. I got all her angst. I was afraid of my own shadow for years. I did everything Everyone told me to do which quite often got me into trouble if it was orders from my sisters. We had one other sister who was loved by all and she was the sweetheart of the family. I have been told that the role I played was typical of a middle sister between two stronger ones.

Scope Dope Cherrybomb said...

BTW just out of curiosity where did the book in the mail come from? Should I guess?

BCB said...

You guys are so funny -- arguing like siblings. And leave it to this group to be atypical. But I'm not making this stuff up. There really are generally accepted norms for birth order behaviour. Of course, for every theory there is some measure of disagreement.

Obviously, all of you are exceptions to the norm. Why am I not surprised?

Oh, and Scope, the book came from Mollie. Over at the TUMF blog they were soliciting people with blogs (not like that, geez) to talk about the book on their own blogs and if you signed up and were picked (at random), they'd send you a free book. But you had to agree to talk about the book on your blog. I was more than a little concerned for a while there, because I refuse to say anything BAD about a book and I was going to be in big trouble if I didn't like it. Good thing I loved it!

Jennifer Talty said...

you can review my books anytime, well next time I'm published for more than five days. Snort.

excellent review.

Lori said...

I'm a youngest sister, and only a few years older than Mare. I don't think Mare and I are mirrior images, but overall I was okay with her role in the story.

I guess in certain ways I'm similar both Mare and Lizzy, but I'm also neither of them. I'm very rebellious but quiet about it because I don't want my rebellion to hurt others. Still, in the end, I always determined to do it on my own. I can be a peacemaker, but only if I don't find the conflict entertaining. Most of the time, I find the conflict really entertaining. I'm extremely independent. I love my family deeply.

I'm a youngest sister, but the thing is...I have no sisters.

Maybe it's a whole different picture when you have three older brothers to contend with.

me said...

I am the oldest, of two, the youngest being a brother. So I have no frame of reference like you all have regarding the psychology of siblings as it refers to this story. That being said, I found it all very believable and enjoyable, seeing how their personalities and position in the famiy played off each other. Then again, I'm not deep or anything. :-)

orangehands said...

YOUNGER SISTERS RULE!!!!!!!!

i'm independent, bossy, go my own way, ruthless, manipulative, and half the time start the trouble rather than play "peacemaker". but i'm the younger sister of an older brother.

and i just found out about the Baby Steps post. ROCK ON! and lori- i'm ready any time to begin our world of CBs on TV. (my suggestion is we find the first comment they ever made on J&B blog and lead in with that, then say "it's where they all came from, the CB behind the author", da-dum)

Louis said...

I can't relate to sisters...not having any. I do have two younger brothers that in some way interact the same way as sisters. The youngest was Mom's favorite, middle brother was independent, I was somewhere in between. My Mom's younger sister did live with us...she was four years older than I. She definitely took the place of an older sister. Bossy, Queen of the roost. Tell me what to do...at least tried...I was good at passive resistance.

Loved TUMF...read it three times already.